Hello and welcome all. And now, for something completely different. Cups of coffee at the ready, please - or perhaps take it in stages... it's a biggy - well, it's nine weeks' work!
And Simon Says Stamp and Show have really timed this one well. Their Inspired By challenge has already helped me in the midst of a little wobble (more about that in Inspired by... Part I, in case you missed it), as have all your warm and supportive messages - thank you so much.
But it also coincides perfectly with me fulfilling my promise to fill you in on some of what I've been doing here in the Czech Republic for the last nine weeks. I said I'd try to do it before I leave CZ... well we're off this afternoon, so I've just made it!
I've been deploying my crafting skills, not to mention inks, stamps and paints - and even some craft design papers - in a slightly different direction... and it's all been inspired by one person: my mother.
There, I've said it - if the ick factor's too high, then move on now!! Some of you may know her as Cestina, and I know some have visited her blog, and you're following her side of the story and you've seen the projects she's been busy with ... but now I'd like to share some of what I've been doing.
Dollshouses are really her hobby, but I have always joined in - for instance making most of the meat and much of the fish for Peacocke's... a rather upmarket butcher's and fishmonger's shop - all done years ago.
Slices of bacon... not the easiest thing to make out of Fimo. Making the kidneys made me feel slightly ill. And because I don't like fatty meat, I made all the joints ridiculously lean, and had to correct afterwards with paint.
I like to think I'd do it better these days.
The ice on the fish slab is broken car windscreen glass - because it's safety glass, it smashes into little cubes, perfect ice cubes. We scrabbled on the car park floor at Cockfosters Underground station at nearly midnight (having just got off the tube) for these, to the consternation of several passersby...
Spot the mussels and prawns!
Now, all this may not precisely count as papercrafting (it may not even qualify for the SSSaS challenge, but that's not important - it's just a chance to share the fun), but it's certainly closely related - particularly the way I do it now, with my new found skills and crafty products!
We've been preparing Cestina's dollshouse - or dollhouse, as I know the Americans amongst you prefer - collection (the sum of more than 40 years collecting - hoarding, some might say) to open as a small museum here in the Czech town where she lives for half of each year (not far from where her mother was born and brought up, but had to leave in 1941, emigrating to England).
Many of the houses had been in storage in our slightly tumble-down garage for more than a decade, so there was some serious cleaning and restoring to be done.
In addition, many of them had never really had the intended care and attention lavished on them.
Now, at last, they have a home worthy of them; we have space to work; and plans and ideas which have been on the shelf for decades can finally be put into practice.
I'm going to fill you in on how just a few of those plans have turned out.
Details of stuff I'm not talking about can probably be found over at Cestina's Dollshouses. If it's not there yet, it soon will be!
I've got lots of before-and-after pictures... it's probably the element of transformation which is most exciting to me in the work. Bear in mind that this is a working collection, rather than a finished, polished museum... there will always be more to be done, and things to be added. Almost everything I'm sharing today is work in progress.
In fact, I'm not sure a dollshouse is ever "finished"... there's always more to do; some little extra texture to add, just as in a real house. But some of these are more "finished" than others!!
So, for instance, in the last nine weeks, I've turned this... a homemade house, made out of a tea chest, decorated in the most extraordinary 1970s wallpaper scraps, and given to my mother by a kindergarten group who didn't have the space for it...
...into this... a nineteenth century Colonial bungalow. We're still arguing about whether it's in Africa or India, but that's okay: all the final detailing - maps, photographs, papers etc is still to be done.
The gentleman's residence is essentially very simply furnished but, like our German friends in the diplomatic service, he does travel to his postings with some home comforts, as you'll see.
Obviously paint played a big part in the transformation, and some straw matting with a coat or two of woodstain makes a wonderful roof. The straw was rescued and hoarded from a puppet theatre my mother made for me when I was about 5 - so nearly forty years ago.
But I'm also very proud of my first attempt at a handmade floor (wait till you see what I did once I'd had some practice!).
The verandah floor is made from cardboard, stamped with the Kaisercraft woodgrain stamp, and doused in some wood dye.
I cut the card into strips and mosaic'd them together. The same "planks" are in the hallway, while cork tiles do service as "exotic flooring" in the main rooms.
This is what will become the bedroom. Mmm... lovely wallpaper - and imagine how large those flowers would be full size!
I'm also very happy with my mosquito net - fashioned from some old net curtain, and the wire from the top of a champagne bottle (okay, it was Bohemia Sekt - the Czech equivalent of Cava or Prosecco), painted with enamel paint.
From the decanter and two goblets, it seems that our man - a bachelor, who left England having suffered a broken engagement - is not above entertaining company in the bedroom.
This is one of the most inspiring things about my mother's approach to the hobby...
She's never had lots of money to spend on it (many houses were picked up for peanuts at auctions, or more recently ebay, or - as with this one - handed over for free), so she has become adept at taking ordinary household objects or leftover bits and pieces and turning them into part of her miniature world.
It does mean that there are now two of us hoarding the most unlikely odds and sods, ready to use them in our respective hobbies!
So the cork tiles are odd ones that have been lying around for ages. The tiles around the fireplace are cut from some bookmarks and leaflets from an exhibition.
The tiny cushions are made from material samples and swatches (made by my aunt, Mette Breminer - as was the bedding in the bedroom, out of an old linen tablecloth and some hankies).
"One must, of course, always travel with the family silver."
In the kitchen (note the mottled walls - tried not to breathe while I wiped away whatever it was! - and the dessicated spider hanging over the door)...
... we now have a table mat as the straw floor, a balsa wood counter, but no cooking range yet, I'm afraid. Until I'm back again - I hope early next year - they'll have to make do with the little burner.
"One simply can't get the staff these days."
A sneaky little view of the hallway here too...
"I'm awaiting delivery of the trunk containing my school photographs - Harrow, don't you know - and my other paraphernalia. Until then, I'm afraid the place looks rather sparse."
I also had a great time completely making over our Cape Cod house. From the outside this weatherboarded beauty looked the part, though I have repainted the roof, shutters and front door.
Goodbye green... hello Weathered Wood Distress Paint (the shutters - not the whole roof!). I've still got work to do on repairing the weatherboarding itself. And you'll notice there are no actual windows yet in the new version.
The old ones were made by sticking wood to acetate, but the acetate has now gone completely yellow. Making new ones is going to have to wait for another time... my focus was on the interior.
It's not always easy to get at the insides though!
This house was certainly bearing the scars of having stood in a garage for more than ten years. I gave it a complete re-papering and re-flooring makeover.
And pre-garaging, the inside had been filled with various bits and pieces of furniture which really didn't fit the bill to my mind.
I'll admit to being heavily influenced by Hollywood versions of Cape Cod houses (for instance, the glorious one in Something's Gotta Give - oh, dream house!).
I've still got lots of work to do on gathering the tiny things that add real life and texture to a house, but I'm pleased with where I've got to so far.
The floor downstairs is the pine base on which the house is built, whitewashed with white woodstain, and then the boards were painstakingly drawn on by hand.
The pale grey wallpaper in the living room - which seemed somehow very USA to me - is wrapping paper from the cheapy shop! The beautiful irises in the bedroom are printed off the internet. Most of the rest come from the hoard.
I also ripped out one whole wall and created a new one with an arch through instead - open-plan living, American style - using, yup, plain old recycled cardboard off the back of a sketchbook!
Now, to the furniture. I've been putting all that distressing training to excellent use. I took the mass-produced plastic furniture (how come they always make the "wood" so orange?) and applied my painty techniques, including crackle and dry brushing and so on, to create a houseful of shabby chic wood furniture... light and bright and airy. Lots of little pictures: do click for a closer view - if you're still awake, that is...
The dining room furniture had the full crackle treatment.
First a coat of dark brown acrylic... then crackle glaze, some white acrylic, and watch the magic!
Or just a coat of paint and some dry-brushing for the highlights.
And even the pieces that are made of actual wood can just be a bit much... time to get painty.
I've always wanted a desk like this (in real life, I mean) - but the shabby chic version please, for me.
Basically, this dollshouse lark is about creating houses I will never get to live in in real life, isn't it?!
And, um, yes... that would be me in the tiny photograph, aged about three, I think!
More beautiful bed linen sewn by my aunt, Mette, with the tiniest stitches you've ever seen - and made of a handkerchief... very fine material, you see, so it works brilliantly in this scale.
Vintage Photo distress ink - of course - to shabby up the lacy rug in the bedroom...
Vintage Photo and Walnut Stain also worked brilliantly to create a bit more life in the brick paper used in the external transformation of this rather lurid house...
... into this highly typical piece of North London architecture.
It's going to be a pair of bedsits inside, and fairly rundown, so I didn't want it looking too pristine.
The inking brings a touch of weathering to the bricks that is really helpful in starting to paint the picture of a property where the landlord doesn't exactly get right on the job when you call him. A long way to go on this one, but I'm pleased with the outside.
Time for my pièce de résistance... the handmade floors in our large Edwardian house. It's actually an American kit house, made by the Walmer company, later taken over by Greenleaf. (Regulars will spot my Tick Tock altered clock now happily on the wall.)
First of all, let me show you the floors in all their completed glory!!
I love this house and all the things in it... we put it together, decorated it and added all the wonderful little touches throughout my teens.
Even though it didn't ever end up in the garage, twenty years had taken their toll, and a full scale redecoration was needed.
If you're a WOYWWer, you already know that I used some 7 Gypsies paper in this house for the living room wallpaper.
And the fireplace was plain wood, so I got out the paints to "convert" it into marble!
And I also created the wood panelling you see in the music/school room out of - yes, it's here again - plain old cardboard!
I'm not going to show you inside the whole house, it's too huge... you'll just have to wait for Cestina to get round to this one! It's the floors I'm really proud of.
Many of the papers we already had in the hoarded stash, some are craft papers, or downloaded from the Internet and printed out.
But when it came to floors, I was very dissatisfied with most of what we had available.
I wanted something worthy of this house I love, but short of spending a great deal of money on the beautiful floors which do exist, but cost a fortune, there was only one option... handmaking the floors myself.
So it was kraft card to the rescue - some sheets of the PaperMania 12x12 Basics Kraft Card which, in a stroke of genius, has grids and lines on one side of some sheets.
This was the breakthrough which would enable me to cut thousands of individual parquet tiles with some precision.
First though, it was back into action with the Kaisercraft woodgrain stamp and the Coffee Archival ink. Then cutting into strips, and finally into the tiny tiles (about 1.5 x 0.5cm each).
Once they were all stuck down (oh, how quick to type; oh, how slow to do!), I used Vintage Photo Distress Ink to bring them to life, and then a coat of matte varnish both to seal and to finish the look. Safe to say, I'm thrilled with the results.
And I'm possibly even happier with the boards upstairs in the main bedroom and nursery.
Simpler and quicker to lay than the tiles, obviously; and this time inked with Walnut Stain before the varnishing for a deeper, darker look.
Worth the effort, I think!
It's already a marathon post, and I haven't even touched on the makeover of the tiny 1/24th scale house (interesting trying to wallpaper when you can barely get your hands inside)...
...or the paper-embossing I've been doing ready to do some pargeting on our Essex pub-to-be...
...or the bay window I built out of balsa wood for the Georgian house Cestina was working on, and where a troupe of performing mice have just moved in...
...or how I used texture paste to plaster a new chimney for our medieval thatched cottage (yup, genuine straw, and it's just been rethatched by our Dutch friends who came for a week to help out)...
...or the stamps I used to create the signage for our French patisserie Chez l'Artiste (upstairs is an artist's gallery with a rather scantily clad model sitting for her portrait).
I'm leaving all those delights to Cestina over at Cestina's Dollshouses...
And I'm sure she'll also let you know how it goes when we open to the public for the first time on Saturday morning (before I head back across Europe to the UK).
I just wanted to try to give you a taster of some of what I've been up to, and share some of the challenges and the fun inspired by this amazing project of my mother's... an extraordinary woman who is an inspiration to me in this work, in her adventures into a new (even though familial) language and culture, as well as in more ways than I can possibly say.
I'd like to enter this into Simon Says Stamp and Show's challenge Inspired by... yes, my mother (though a rather more conventional option will be along tomorrow if I get finished).
Two Tim Holtz stamp sentiments to end with:
It's the little things that make life big.
And one which is unbelievably appropriate for Cestina. You wouldn't believe how often I heard the phrase, "I've never seen that before in my life", as we were unpacking and sorting 40 years' worth of collected miniatures, so this is perfect:
One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is always making exciting new discoveries.
Any hint from those quotes as to who might be in the frame for Inspired by... Part III? See you soon!